For seven years, Donte Clark was the Tecumseh basketball player with unfulfilled potential. Now he’s a baller.
The 6-foot-5 senior soars for dunks, snatches rebounds, blocks shots and often dominates games. The Arrows’ fans cheer the excitement he brings.
What most fans don’t know is how Clark’s coaches have helped him evolve from a junior varsity player into a varsity star in one season. If they knew about the ups and downs, they would cheer even louder.
The journey from being a 10-year-old who was kicked out of basketball camp to averaging double figures in points and rebounds for most of this season has been full of wrong turns and getting lost. This season Clark has found his direction around the bad attitudes and poor work ethic that were his roadblock.
“It was his choice to look for those opportunities and want to change,” said Arrows assistant coach Richard Quisenberry, a longtime mentor to Clark. “I’m proud that he understands if I make the right choices, good things are going to happen.”
Clark averages 15.4 points and has scored 20 or more four times including a career-high 31 against Springfield. He leads the Central Buckeye Conference with 9.8 rebounds including a career-high 22. And playing college basketball might actually happen.
“It’s been a joy for me,” Clark said. “I knew I was good enough, but I never thought I would put up some pretty decent numbers. I wish I could do it over, have one more year of playing like I am now.”
Clark landed in the Tecumseh school district as a 10-year-old foster child in the home of Victoria Clark. He found a home and was adopted when he was 14.
He attended a basketball camp at Tecumseh when he was 10 and met Arrows head coach Roger Culbertson. During one of the camp sessions Culbertson sent Clark to the hallway for the rest of the day. It was not a good first impression.
Clark joined a youth league team that year coached by former Tecumseh assistant Mike Mastin. Clark played for Mastin, still one of Clark’s mentors, for four years and began to learn the game. But attitude and hard work were lessons Clark still needed to learn.
He played on Tecumseh’s freshmen team, but he was still a long way from earning the trust of his coaches. Getting kicked out of practice twice will do that.
“I thought the coaches were going to give up on me because I had a bad attitude my freshman year,” Clark said. “I really didn’t want to listen to anybody and I thought I was better than I was.”
But in the middle of the discipline and disappointments, Clark saw hope.
“They kept yelling at me, so I knew that was a good sign,” he said. “If they keep yelling, that means they care.”
Poor grades made Clark ineligible as a sophomore. He played in a rec league before taking up track and high jumping in the spring. He liked track so much that he wasn’t sure he would go back to basketball his junior year.
“When basketball season was approaching that’s when it hit me again that I really want to play,” he said. “I really focused hard on my grades and got help. That’s when I got my confidence back.”
Work in progress
The year away didn’t help Clark’s standing in the program. The Arrows had eight seniors and some of them played his position and had been committed to the program for four years. So Clark played JV and got rare minutes in varsity games.
Clark said he learned from the seniors, but he also admitted that he coasted most of the time. His attitude, however, was the biggest problem.
“If I didn’t know a play and they got on me, I’d just pout and I wouldn’t try anymore,” he said. “If we were losing and I fouled somebody and I had to sit out, I’d pout. I’ve gotten a lot better since last year.”
Culbertson knew Clark had to grow up and produce this year because he was the only big man on the team. But Clark’s past meant that Culbertson had no idea what he would get.
“He’s grown more mentally than he has physically,” Culbertson said. “It’s been neat to see. In the past he would shut down when something bad would happen. That was it. Now he’ll have his moments, but he’ll bounce back.”
One of those moments happened almost three weeks ago at Graham. Culbertson told his team not to shoot 3-pointers until he said differently. Clark shot a 3 and made it, but that didn’t matter to Culbertson. Clark went to the bench and played only about two minutes in the half.
“He was upset with me and took that all the way to halftime,” Culbertson said.
Culbertson had a serious talk with Clark at halftime, telling him, “You react that way in life you’re going to have a hard life.”
Clark responded in the second half and finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Quisenberry joined Culbertson’s staff this season and has continued to push Clark toward maturity. Quisenberry’s sons, Malik and Darius, are Clark’s teammates and longtime friends.
“He took me in as one of his own,” said Clark, whose biological father is not part of his life. “He’s always teaching me not only basketball but things about life and things after basketball and things to be successful in life.”
Quisenberry has been an educator and basketball coach for 30 years, mostly in Clark County. He said he has tried to mentor Clark the same as his own sons.
“Sometimes you have to be real with them about things and what you expect out of them,” Quisenberry said. “That’s been a piece that I’ve brought to him as far as a young black man understanding that there are some struggles that you may have, and that that’s just the way it is, and you’ve got to work through that.”
Clark wants to play basketball and high jump in college, but most schools are just learning about his talents. His college decision is a few months off, but he already knows he wants to be a social worker because he wants to help kids the way he was helped.
“He’s beginning to understand what life is really about,” Quisenberry said. “It’s not the money we make, it’s not the material things we have but what we’re able to do for people.”
Like earlier this season when Quisenberry took Clark into a room to teach him a life lesson. He told Clark that it was not acceptable to pout because the game wasn’t going his way. It’s one of many moments Clark can look back on and remember how far he’s come.
“A lot of people in my life have helped me overcome stuff,” Clark said. “And they’re still doing it to this day. Without them, I don’t think I could’ve overcome it.”
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